ZAHEER ALLAM & DAVID JONES

It just took the world just 3 months to be well-versed in immunology and virology. This is both amazing and concerning as it has opened new branches of inquisitive literature as to why we are more concerned about death caused by minute organisms rather than those caused by climate change, vehicular dependence, floods, locust plague famines, and others. In addition to this, the rapid global interest in COVID-19 has caught the world by dramatic surprise; to many European nations, a ‘war’ has begun. Since mid-January, to align with global calls, we (the authors) dedicated part of our research efforts at Deakin University to explore how urban strategic thinking can be applied to pandemic preparedness and response, and how it can lead to more resilient urban health protocols. So, the invitation to contribute to Le Mauricien on this subject is timely.

Looking at how the situation is unfolding globally, and with Mauritius which could be on the brink of its first COVID-19 cases and in order to better help prepare its response, we underline four thematics below:

1. Pre and post COVID-19 economic planning

Global businesses are being disrupted at an unprecedented scale, resulting in subsequent blows on the stock markets. Reading financial metrics, the oil price plummeted just a week ago, to a scale lower than the 2008 financial crisis aided by a disagreement between the Saudis and the Russians. The economic loss of global air carriers alone is expected to stand between $63 and $113 billion, and is also bringing all ship freights to a grinding halt. As other industries are impacted by consequence, this highlights a landscape of extreme seriousness, where some experts warn of a potential upcoming global recession. Preparing our local economy to the mass hysteria that the COVID-19 brings will ensure its sustenance and resilience. The ‘plan de soutien’ crafted by Government is a positive sign to this as it scaffolds relief and support to businesses of varying scales. As this is further explored and its mechanisms and processes communicated to the private sector, the economic planning and preparedness must also be encouraged to cater for During and After the outburst. With the national budget planned in a few months, this provides an opportunity to work towards a cohesive plan that can potentially aid in re-arranging local and regional strategies with the aim to creatively stimulate both foreign and internal investments for economic growth post-virus.

2. Community planning and the elderly

Early in January, we witnessed the extreme measures of the Chinese lockdown in the Hubei province, resulting in the containment of 18 cities with a combined population of 56 million people. This led to ghost towns as a key gear of our industrialised world was forced to stop. The carbon and greenhouse de-emissions of this action has been amazing in erasing pollution and heat islands over China, and we are now witnessing the same over Italy. But, this work-place cessation has instigated panic-stricken zones where residents barricade themselves in secluded areas and use force to restrict access to their urban areas to outsiders. Queues to and fights within supermarkets highlight how centralised planning has failed in managing single point convergences escalating increased risks for infection transmissions. Similarly, unfettered human movements on road/air/train/ship and their exit/entry gathering points are major convergence transmission exposure points. We can learn from this and ensure that decentralised convergence points, societal nurture, and economic sustenance are supported in local preparedness plans. These aspects are the keys in ensuring the liveability resilience dimensions of communities. On this, while the larger community is being represented as being relatively safe as the fatality rate averages 3.4%, the infirmed, low-immune system people and the elderly is at risk; 60-69 (4.6%), 70-79 (9.8%), 80-89 (18%). There is a need to explore other avenues more conducive to those age groups and target groups; including home isolation options with support mechanisms, such as guaranteed ‘meals-on-wheels’, reliable delivered access to medicines, toiletries, disinfectants, healthy regimes (and not just basic food meals), for a sustained 2-3 week period.

3. Studying and preparing for disruptions in the demand-supply-consumption patterns

Panic buying and hoarding have been observed as a global phenomenon as the virus gains ground in territories. This started last weekend in Mauritius and is expected to continue until there is an international mediatised attention of an affordable cure. The approach of regulating panic buying as well as pricing by government is welcomed as there is a need to control available stocks while ensuring that this aligns with the arrival of imported goods. Panic buying can also impact negatively on vulnerable groups and this must not be overlooked. Current data is showing that the youth are least transmission recipients, but this may differ for those with low immune systems, so a general characterisation for this age group must be avoided. While it may be a good idea for teachers to be equipped to share good health practices to students, they can also aid in identifying at-risk students for appropriate responses. On this, schools must not be closed unless really, really required. This will ensure that emergency staff and operational employees keep working to keep the ‘wheels of our economy’ operating without being suddenly burdened by having to cease work to look after their children. Additionally, don’t place this burden upon the elderly and grandparents because this role can escalate their risk percentage. Further to this, there is an opportunity to work towards a health programme introducing people to garden production for basic produce, which our tropical climate is supportive of. This reduces pressure on importation and local supply chains while encouraging healthy eating habits; breaking away from the need for canned foods, while sporting a decentralised food production model which can aid in empowering communities in times of need.

4. Interdisciplinary innovation and resilience planning

Finally, we turn in retrospection on lessons learnt during past pandemics while looking at how to re-calibrate approaches towards the actualisation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). On this, we turn towards the need for a multi-disciplinary approach to encourage discussions from an array of professionals in addressing the current and future pandemics. This is extremely important and needs to be partaken now. This expands beyond the health, migration and economic dimensions and includes numerous sub others and sub fields as resilience planning demands a holistic understanding of remote, yet connected fields. So, it may be timely to expand pandemic preparedness programs beyond the linear and singular dimensions of health and economy to include others, with an aim to render safer, more resilient, inclusivity and sustainable communities. ………

“Queues to and fights within supermarkets highlight how centralised planning has failed in managing single point convergences escalating increased risks for infection transmissions. Similarly, unfettered human movements on road/air/train/ship and their exit/entry gathering points are major convergence transmission exposure points. We can learn from this and ensure that decentralised convergence points, societal nurture, and economic sustenance are supported in local preparedness plans.”

Zaheer Allam holds a PhD in Humanities (Sustainability Policy), MBA, MA in Political Economy and a BSc in Architectural Science from universities in UK and Australia. He is the author of 5 books on the thematic of Future Cities and Urban Sustainability and contributes to global discussions through peer reviewed publications.

David Jones is a Professor at Deakin University (Australia) and author of a number of books and peer reviewed papers on the intersecting subjects of Landscape Architecture, Culture and Urbanism. He is an expert member on several of ICOMOS’ scientific committees and a former Sessional Commissioner for the Environment, Resources & Development Court in South Australia.